In 1877, the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased, for $60,000 in gold, nearly 22,000 objects discovered and removed from Cyprus by “General” Luigi di Cesnola, the United States consul to that country from 1865 to 1877. Americans were fascinated by this widely publicized collection, much of which consisted of iridized and corroded ancient glass. Its impact on Louis Tiffany was twofold: it reinforced his desire to improve, and master, artificial iridescence on glass and also eventually led to his glasshouse’s production of a type of glass known today as “Cypriote.”
Iridescent vases with pitted surfaces were made by Tiffany’s glasshouse as early as 1895. Although originally thought to have been made solely by rolling and embedding pulverized shards of glass into the hot gather while on a blowpipe, it is now evident that potassium nitrate also played an important role. It was this chemical, when mixed with the small glass bits on the marver, that bubbled and burst due to the heat of the glass, creating the random oval pitting that is the essential characteristic of “Cypriote” vases.
This vase is a relatively early example and clearly demonstrates the incredible skills of the gaffer, or head glassblower, and his team. As is the case with many Cypriote pieces marked with a K-prefix letter, the opaque olive-green body, while still hot, was rolled over crushed brown, navy and copper colored glass combined with a sprinkling of potassium nitrate. The gaffer expanded the vase with a blowpipe while the chemical created the pock-marked surface. The next step was to enhance the piece by manipulating transparent yellow glass into broad peaked ovals that encircle the body and cover most of the neck. The vase was then placed in the fuming oven, where the yellow glass received a bright gold iridescence with violet highlights.
That the vase survived the annealing, or cooling, process, especially when taking its monumental size into account, is nearly miraculous. It is another example that beautifully commemorates the artistry and talents of Tiffany’s glassworkers.